(KPL) Another cohort of Lao field epidemiologists have successfully completed their one-year Field Epidemiology Training (FET) programme at a graduation ceremony chaired by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bounkong Syhavong, Minister of Health, on May 29 in Vientiane Capital.

The FET programme is supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (USCDC), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) together with the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Peter M. Haymond, U. S. Ambassador, Dr. Howard Sobel, Acting WHO Representative, Dr. Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh Director-General of Department of Communicable Disease Control, and delegates from relevant sectors attended this important event.

The Ministry of Health, Department of Communicable Disease Control (DCDC) and National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology (NCLE), have managed the year-long FET programme each year since its introduction back in 2009.

To date, they have successfully trained 86 field epidemiologists in Laos, and their work covers all 18 provinces in the country. The FET training aims to produce qualified field epidemiologists not only for every province in the country, but also some key districts, to work on life-saving public health initiatives in their communities.  

“The FET program has played an important role in developing infectious disease surveillance and response capacity in the Lao PDR. The applied nature of the training has equipped graduates with practical skills to conduct outbreak investigations required in their daily work,” said Dr. Bounkong, the Health Minister.

The FET programme was evaluated by a group of national and international experts in 2019, and findings confirmed that the FET programme has demonstrated a clear benefit to public health in the country since its introduction ten years earlier, in February 2009.  The investment has paid off well during the recent COVID-19 pandemic where many of the trained epidemiologists led surveillance, case investigation, contact tracing, sample collection activities and also strengthened the provincial Emergency Operation Centre that have contributed to the containment of COVID-19 transmission in the country. This reinforces the recommendations made by the joint group of experts in 2019 to ensure the sustainability of the programme.

“We have seen from the Covid-19 pandemic that health security threats are complex and requires a whole-of-society response. Strong collaboration across different agencies and sectors is needed to manage threats. I applaud the Ministry of Health on demonstrating strong collaboration with other sectors and this program can be a model for other countries,” said Dr Sobel, the acting WHO Representative.

Much of the work and findings from FET trainees during their training programme have been used by the Ministry of Health, developed and translated into health policies, contributing to public health system developments in the country.  These include, for example, new vaccine initiatives for rubella, seasonal influenza and Japanese encephalitis.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic also reinforces the need for FET to have more human resources, clear structure at sub-national level, enhanced supervising and technical capacity, and coordination. The FET will continue with provincial level RRT training for district and village levels, strengthen the provincial Emergency Operation Centre, support data entry and health information activities on COVID-19, and conduct risk assessments on mass gathering as we move to the new normal.

“Congratulations to the Lao epidemiologists and health professionals who just graduated from the year-long FET Programme in Vientiane!  The United States is proud to support you and the Ministry of Health protecting the people of Laos from infectious diseases, including COVID-19,” said Ambassador Haymond.